This beautiful spring weekend didn’t end the way Ajax had hoped it would. In the Amsterdam ArenA, the league leader sputtered to a 1-1 tie against SC Cambuur. Captain Siem de Jong and Cambuur forward Martijn Barto scored the goals in Amsterdam.
On Sunday afternoon, Siem de Jong gave the sold-out ArenA a reason to cheer after 1 minute and 23 seconds. On a pass from Ricardo Kishna, Ajax’s captain sent a shot past Cambuur keeper Leonard Nienhuis, who had more or less initiated the goal himself. His pass towards right back Wout Droste was intercepted by Kishna, and subsequently converted into the 1-0 goal by De Jong.
De Jong’s early goal got the afternoon off to a great start. But it wasn’t the first time that the ArenA had burst out in cheers that afternoon – although it did turn out to be the last. Shortly before kick-off, the big screens in the stadium showed competitor FC Twente squandering points for the second weekend in a row. And, despite the fact that Ajax itself didn’t win, Ajax did gain one point on number 3 Twente. The difference between Ajax and the Enschede club has increased to nine points, with seven games to go. Vitesse, in second place, is six points behind Ajax.
It was clear afterwards that De Boer isn’t making much of the current rankings. “It’s nice to talk about that six point lead, but I’d rather look at how we’re playing and how we can improve on that. If we reach a good level, we’ll win games. And after that, you look at the rankings. The upcoming match is the most important. That’s true now, too. We shouldn’t look at the rankings, but at our own game. That’s why we’re in the lead. I’m not worried about the competitors, but we need to stay sharp in the upcoming weeks. We can’t let the competition feel like they can gain anything on us. As I’ve said before: we’re our own biggest competitor.”
Lasse Schöne returned to Ajax’s squad. The Dane had recovered from his ankle injury and, with Siem de Jong and Ricardo Kishna, formed Ajax’s offense. Jairo Riedewald also had a starting spot, thus relegated Daley Blind – celebrating his birthday – to his familiar midfield spot. Niklas Moisander – who had been sick up until Saturday – had recovered in time to be present at kick-off.
Despite dominating in the first forty five minutes, Ajax didn’t manage to increase its lead. Both Kishna and De Jong had opportunities to score a second Ajax goal before halftime. Cambuur had two opportunities just before the end of the first half. Mohamed El Makrani (header) and Marcel Ritzmaier (save by Cillessen) made it clear that Cambuur was intent on breaking its negative series of lost matches in Amsterdam.
The danger posed by the guests was a foreshadowing of what was to come at the start of the second half. After a warning shot by substitute Michiel Hemmen, the next corner kick was spot-on. Cambuur centre forward Martijn Barto sent a header in past keeper Cillessen, making the score 1-1 at 54 minutes. “You could feel that the goal against was going to come”, said Frank de Boer after the game. “Maybe it was a disadvantage that we started off so well. After all, if you start so well, you should actually be 2-0 or 3-0 after fifteen minutes. That didn’t happen, and we were sloppy in the choices we were making. We didn’t manage to win duels and let Cambuur needle us in standard situations. After that goal we had them by the throat, but we didn’t play as well as we did in the first fifteen minutes after that.”
With a tie on the scoreboard, this game between Ajax and Cambuur was reminiscent of the first match three months ago in Leeuwaarden. Back then, Ajax had only managed to wipe away the 1-1 tie in extra time thanks to a goal by Davy Klaassen. A similar scenario wasn’t meant to be this time. Even with substitutes Bojan, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Christian Poulsen coming in, Ajax didn’t manage to avoid losing points. Sightórsson, Klaassen and Blind each had opportunities to score the winning goal, but, just like Cambuur forward Hemmen, they didn’t manage to score.
De Boer: “We already knew beforehand that it could be this kind of match. Many players had midweek interland games. Also, it was about ten degrees warmer. That’s when you could see if you’re alert and fresh enough to pull the trigger. Compliments to Cambuur, but we shouldn’t allow this to happen. At home, we always have to win three points. That’s why this tie in the ArenA is a real shame for us.”